Although May 24 was a working day, thousands of people wearing black went to the Mingyangshan Funeral Home in Hunan province for a funeral service at 10 am to present bouquets and bunches of rice plants to honor Yuan Longping.
The top rice scientist, dubbed the “father of hybrid rice”, died of organ failure at age 91 on May 22.
Born in 1930 in Beijing, and raised in an era of war and famine, Yuan witnessed the despair of people who lost the land they lived on.
So when he applied for university, he decided to study agriculture. But his parents worried such work would be tough and exhausting. However, Yuan said: “Having enough food was people’s [utmost] priority,” noted People’s Daily.
Yuan set out to solve the problem. He began researching hybrid rice in 1964, succeeding in cultivating the world’s first high-yielding hybrid rice strain in 1973. He continued to work in this field and made new breakthroughs. In 2017, the average output of hybrid rice per hectare in China reached 7.5 tons, while globally it was 4.61 tons.
More importantly, he was selfless when it came to sharing his research to benefit people globally. To date, his hybrid rice strain has been planted in large areas of India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, the US and Brazil. Hybrid rice seeds are being cultivated on 4.5 million hectares of land in Asian rice-producing countries, excluding China.
“Professor Yuan was incredibly humble, never seeking fame or adulation, instead focusing only on hard work and results that could help eradicate poverty and lift people out of hunger,” Kenneth M. Quinn, president emeritus of the World Food Prize Foundation, told China Daily.
“袁教授十分谦虚，从不追求名誉和赞美，一心扑在艰苦的工作上，只为消除贫困，让人们摆脱饥饿。”世界粮食奖基金会荣誉主席肯尼思· 奎因（Kenneth M. Quinn）告诉《中国日报》。
Yuan could make such achievements partly because he believed in the power of science as a harvest multiplier, noted People’s Daily.
Using research and trials at his national center, Yuan continued to produce increasingly higher-yielding super-hybrid plants, with panicles so full of grain that they bent, giving the appearance of a “waterfall of rice”. To observe his plants closely, Yuan spent more time in a field than in an office, just as farmers did. Quinn said the scientist maintained a “down-to-earth” attitude.
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs mourned his passing on Twitter, saying, “Yuan passed away today at 91 but his legacy and his mission to end hunger lives on.”